By Ryan Leeming
If there is one thing that holds true for all types of retail, from fortress-style Class A malls to new open-air retail destinations to e-commerce companies, it’s the need to keep it fresh. Today’s consumer demands what’s new and original. And retailers are learning fast that what’s new today is old tomorrow.
Because consumers are connected through many networks, both online and offline, what’s new travels fast. The internet has changed how we live, learn and shop. And, while e-commerce gives people access to what’s new in an instant, brick and mortar stores live on, finding new ways to create a new experience in a modern-day “survival of the newest.”
One such example can be found in Manhattan’s old Meatpacking District where shopping is less about the merchandise and more about the story. The new boutique called Story, whose inventory changes as shoppers seek new experiences buying products or services, is designed as much as a social network as it is a retailer. Another example is Bonobos, a menswear e-commerce company, which has created a new model of retail with a traditional showroom that holds no inventory.
For more traditional retailers, what’s new depends on how they can re-imagine or refresh their physical space. One way is by shrinking square footage and creating new customer experiences within existing stores—a store within a store concept. Best Buy now features retail galleries from Samsung, Sony, HP, and Apple; Macy’s has carved out a piece inside their flagship location in Herald Square for an Etsy Store; and JC Penney is opening new Sephora stores in its locations, a move Penney’s CEO calls “one of our biggest advantages over the competition.”
Landlords are looking to refresh beyond the physical store, as in the case of the CambridgeSide Galleria near Kendall Square. Built in 1990, the mall was recognized as one of the first urban, enclosed shopping centers in the country. Today, New England Development has embarked on a mission to rebrand the property as “CambridgeSide,” while refreshing the interior environment with sleek design elements reflective of the energy of the hot, high-tech neighborhood. New pop-up retail shops will allow new-to-market retailers to join the refreshed environment and test the market with new ideas.
Brick and mortar retailers are also reimagining their customer experience by serving as pickup locations for something purchased online. Consumers can shop online when they want, then pick up their new purchases at their convenience. Retailers can sweeten the deal with a coupon for an in-store or future purchase.
Like any good relationship, the one between consumers and retailers has to keep that sense of newness. The innovations we see today that keep customers coming into street-level locations will surely be replaced with newer evolutions and brighter ideas spawned by landlords and retailers alike.
Ryan Leeming is a senior designer at New England Development.